Ecosystems, Carbon and Biodiversity
How can this site help you?
This tool is specifically set up to allow you to understand your area through maps. Here we have tools for understanding:
- Fire thorugh layers of vegetation, fuel loads and fire frequency over the past decade;
- Carbon through an explanation of what's possible and what's not on Cape York;
- Ecosystems through layers of vegetation, 'of concern' regional ecosystems, nationally listed ecosystems and biomes to explain ecosystem services;
- Biodiversity through layers of species projections under climate change, biodiveristy planning assessments and a summary map of threatened species on Cape York.
Before you start
The Cape York NRM Map Previewer is intended to help you see what a dataset or map looks like before you download or access it for use in your own GIS systems.
If you need special assistance with creating a map or spatial report that you're interested in, we can probably help. Just send us a message at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see what we can do.
The map viewer allows you to overlay multiple "layers" on a "basemap". You can choose one basemap and then add as many overlay layers as you like.
You can turn layers on or off using the checkboxes:
The layer selector process starts here:
There are several basemaps provided: choose one.
Overlay layers are available in the next tab:
Choose a source, and then you can navigate the layers available under that source. A bit of information or preview is sometime available in the right-side panel:
Ecosystems on Cape York
An ecosystem includes all of the living organisms (eg. plants, animals, fungi) and processes (eg. soil, water, air) in a given area. Each organism or process within the ecosystem relies on the others for it to work efficiently and effectively. If something is missing from a system, it has an impact somewhere else. For example, trees rely on seeds being dispersed to reproduce. If the bird that spreads a particular kind of seed is removed from the system, the tree will also be at risk. The flora and fauna that depend on the tree for food and shelter will also impacted. And so on.
Cape York has incredible and invaluable ecosystems, including reef, wetlands, fresh water systems, rainforests, heath, savannah and grasslands. These are home to thousands of species and several hundred threatened species.
Threatened ecosystems have been identified in the southern section of Cape York. The coastal vegetation type, called 'Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Vine Thickets of Eastern Australia', runs from Princess Charlotte Bay all the way to Victoria. This is the target of a national recovery planning process currently being conducted by the Department of the Environment.
Tools to understand and monitor ecosystems
Several tools are available to explore ecosystems on Cape York, including:
- Bureau of Meteorology groundwater dependent ecosystems
- EcoAccounts for Cape York and Northern Gulf
Ecosystem services and valuation
Currently CYP has limited opportunities under the current carbon economy. A more holistic approach that would provide a framework for development decisions on Cape York could be based on a valuation of Cape York's natural assets - its rivers, wetlands, forests, grasslands, coastal systems and reefs - as a fundamental component of its wealth, wellbeing and sustainability. This approach would make explicit the values associated with economic decisions that, based on other accounting methods, hide the value of ecosystems from view.
People value ecosystems and biodiversity for many reasons: cultural values such as sacred sites and totemic species; environmental values such as water and carbon sequestration; intrinsic values of species to exist in their own right; aesthetic values, such as ethical and psychological characteristics of landscape beauty and charismatic species; and economic values such as tourism, fishing and industry.
A recent paper suggests that the value of Cape York's ecosystems is in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. While the exact numbers are not important, it is the number of zeros that tell us something about value these ecosystems provide.
Options for land management
There are several opportunities of managing land for ecosystem services, these include:
- Carbon sequestration opportunities - fire, soils, grazing, vegetation and wetlands;
- Conservation efforts such as through nature refuges and privately funded conservation actions;
- Maintenance of land and sea condition, such as pest and weed management, marine debris removal, erosion control and fire management;
- Indigenous economic development that supports connection to country and on-ground activities.
Biome5 and Cape York NRM ran a project aimed to facilitate and develop a carbon prioritization framework for Cape York Peninsula (CYP).
Currently in CYP the main opportunity to create Australian Carbon Credit Units is by applying the savanna burning method, which reduces nitrous oxide and methane emissions through strategic early dry season fire management. Other CFI methods now available are not applicable or suitable for CYP. The main reason for this is the perceived intactness of CYP because most land-based methods assume a degraded or agricultural landscape.
Future carbon opportunities for CYP landholders under the CFI include the development of a rangeland management method that combines fire, cattle and soil management.
A more holistic approach to land management in CYP may be to develop a valuation of the ecosystem services provided by CYP, within which carbon abatement is embedded. This approach would, for instance, better value adaptation measures such as mangrove establishment as sea levels rise under climate change scenarios.
THE CARBON FARMING INITIATIVE
To receive carbon credits through the CFI a project must follow an approved method. In May 2015 the CFI had fifteen methods for industry including for the coal sector, energy efficiency, landfill and waste, and transport.
For the land sector there are, as of May 2015: six methods for agricultural activities, which involve pigs (methane from piggeries), cattle (feeding nitrates), diary and cotton; eleven methods for vegetation and soil sequestration; and two savanna burning methods.
The Australian government is in the process of streamlining the multiple overlapping methods. Changes to nine methods and cancellation of 17 methods where project activities are covered by another method are anticipated. This streamlining process should be completed by July 2015.
THE CARBON FARMING INITIATIVE AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION FUND
The Carbon Farming Initiative is integrated into the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The principle client for carbon credits in Australia is the Australian government. The objective of the ERF is to obtain large quantities of lowest-cost abatement to meet Australia’s international 2020 emission reduction commitment of 5% below 2000 levels. The ERF will work through a competitive auction process for five years to 2020.
A summary of the first auction shows that:
The government bought 47.3 million tonnes of CO2-e at an average price of $13.95 per tonne.
The government issued 107 contracts comprised of 43 contractors and 144 projects.
Sequestration was 28 million tonnes (59.6%):
- 75% was avoided deforestation
- the remaining 25% made up mostly of soil carbon and regrowth
- less than 1% was afforestation and reforestation
Landfill and waste was 18 million tonnes (38.3%)
Savannah burning was 1%.
Two projects from CYP were successful. They were Pompuraaw and Olkola savanna burning projects.
Available options for carbon abatement
Fire Management: Currently implemented
The Savanna Burning Method sets out the requirements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through fire management aimed at reducing the incidence and extent of larger, higher intensity late dry season fires - defined as those beginning after 1st of August. As of April 2015, 24 properties on the Cape York Peninsula were Registered Projects.
The method is based on comparing the emissions from a savanna burning management project against a pre-project baseline. The baseline must incorporate fire histories going back at least 10 to 15 years.
To see if you are eligible you must first determine if your property lies within the areas covered by the method - essentially much of the central and western region of the Cape York Peninsula, but not the eastern fall. This is because the method relies on North Australia Fire Information (NAFI), which has poor fire mapping for the eastern fall due to persistent cloud cover.
Under the Savanna Burning Method, each project has to carry out detailed mapping of vegetation fuel types, which requires at least 250 vegetation validation points for a project less than 10,000 square kilometres, and 500 or more points for those over 20,000 square km. They must then produce detailed maps of the vegetation of the whole project area, and then upload the maps and project boundaries to the NAFI site. Project proponents then need to complete geospatial and other calculations by using the Savanna Burning Abatement Tool (SavBAT2). A User Manual is available from the SavBAT2 website, and provides guidance on mapping of projects and vegetation for use in the SavBAT2 models.
Best Practice Savanna Fire Management guidelines and Savanna Burning Methods
It is important to recognise that the Savanna Burning Method may conflict with best practice fire management recommendations such as those developed by Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport Racing and by Reef Catchments. These best practice guidelines (see Fire tab) provide recommendations for fire frequencies and seasons. These recommendations suggest that some landscapes should never be burnt, such as rainforests and sand dunes, while others should be burnt only every few years, and some such as heaths over much longer periods.
The Savanna Burning Method may conflict with these best practice recommendations in some cases, and especially within the Biodiversity Corridors (See Fire tab). Within these corridors there may be other requirements to protect biodiversity in conjunction with the fire management guidelines.
The Savanna Burning Method also does not take account of the general time of curing of grasses across the Cape York Peninsula. In places it may not be possible to burn the grasses before 1st August, the official start of the late dry season according to the Savanna Burning Method.
Reforestation and Vegetation: Limited opportunity
The Emission Reduction Fund focuses on high quantities of low cost emissions, and the short time frame to meet the 2020 deadline. This has important implications for some land sector projects.
The reforestation method suitable for Cape York requires a long time frame due to the establishment and transaction costs. Establishment costs alone are estimated to be between $8,000-$30,000 per hectare. The amount of carbon sequestered by young forests of less than five years old is also very low. It will take a long term policy framework and high carbon prices to profit from this method.
No project using this method was included in the first ERF auction. The Permanent Environmental Plantings method requires that the land on which the plantings are to occur has not been forested for five years before the project commencement. Any regrowth must not have been cleared. The land can have been used for grazing, pasture management, cropping or nature conservation for five years before planting. If the land has not been used for five years regrowth must not have occurred. These circumstances are rare on CYP.
Notwithstanding the impediments, anyone planning a reforestation project could follow a method in order to take advantage of any opportunities that may be available in the future.
Avoided Deforestation: Little opportunity
There is little or no opportunity to create carbon credits from avoiding deforestation on Cape York using the CFI. The CFI avoided deforestation method requires the proponent to hold a clearing consent issued before 1 July 2010 for clearing for the purpose of converting to cropland or grassland.
Soil Carbon: Not cost effective
The CFI method for sequestering carbon in soils is specific to grazing systems of permanent pasture or those that have been continuously cropped for five years. Advice from the Clean Energy Regulator is that the methodology is unlikely to be cost effective in relatively low rainfall areas including for much of Australia’s rangelands.
Maps for soil carbon for Cape York are based on few data points, and are of little assistance in providing landholders with guidance for adopting soil carbon as an additional income stream.
The costs of the soil carbon method are likely to be prohibitive since it requires intensive sampling to create a detailed baseline. Several subsequent soil carbon measurements are also required and these will also need to be intensive to meet the 95% confidence levels required. Only qualified technicians must be used, and their work needs to be audited using auditors own expensive methods. Management actions need to be clearly defined and followed. The method itself advises there is no guarantee any of this will provide results.
Potential Future Opportunities
In 2012 Australian Carbon Rangelands Enterprise (a consortium which included R.M. Williams) submitted a rangelands restoration method for assessment under the CFI.
The method focuses on increasing carbon stocks in woody biomass in rangelands through excluding or reducing stock and managing for feral animals and fire.The method has been assessed by the government and has been sent back to the proponent for further information before being released for public consultation.
Sea Level Rise and Mangroves
Hectare for hectare mangrove forests store the most carbon of all forests on Earth. Using advice from Professor Scott Smithers of JCU, we used Clarkson and Neldner to estimate the potential future extent of mangrove forests under sea level rise. We measured the difference between Mean High Water at neap tides (MHWN) and Highest Astronomical Tides (HAT). The inner part of mangroves was generally considered to be around the MHWN and the hyper saline salt marshes and associated ecosystems were considered an indicator of HAT.
The maps – an example of which is displayed below - show where the sea would likely flow under sea level rise. We used DEM layers to corroborate the model we have used.
Mangroves currently cover an area of 159,517 ha. Saltpan and Mudflat, and Beach Scrub incorporate an area of 240,796 ha and it is this area that might be considered a guide to the potential of future mangrove forests. How much of the current mangroves would be lost as a result of sea level rise is unknown.
There is also no guarantee that the sea will actually rise in these areas or that mangroves will grow there. Our estimates are, however, at a finer scale than recent broader scale maps.
Mapping of Holocene landforms is underway in various locations to see where the sea level was 6000 year ago at a higher sea level than now and these maps can also be used as guidance. Local knowledge could assist the mapping process by providing insight into where the sea has risen to set up monitoring and scientific plots. Using this approach it may be possible to provide an adaptation value based on early action that may ameliorate the impact of sea level rise by pre-emptive mangrove planting.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is a word that means the variety of living organisms on earth. Biodiversity is usually explored at three levels - genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. So the term describes the variety of species, genetic diversity within species, and the diversity of habitats and ecological processes.
High biodiversity is considered essential for ecosystem stability. Cape York has exceptional biodiversity. Cape York has over 10 000 plant species and several thousand animal species. It is home to over over 15% of Australia’s species, largely due to diverse and relatively intact landscapes. Cape York also represents 60% of Australia’s butterflies, over a third of bird species, over a quarter of the frog, mammal and reptile species, and the richest freshwater fauna in Australia (more than 40% of fish species). Approximately 240 plant species are endemic to the region and at least 350 species are on state, national and international threatened species lists.
This tool provides a select set of information about biodiversity, including:
- The status of threatened species and distribution;
- Projections of future distributions of vertebrate species under climate change;
- Monitoring of biodiversity, including issues and tools;
- Spatial information through a map viewer.
What can I do?
Biodiversity in Australia and around the world is in decline due to direct and indirect threats, including habitat clearing, pest species proliferation, industrial development and climate change. All people bear responsibility to curb the loss of biodiversity, such as by:
- implementing sustainable development and land management practices;
- actively reducing threats;
- conducting monitoring and research;
- improving environmental awareness and education;
- setting up appropriate governance structures;
- implementing policies for market-based approaches to conservation, through water, tourism or carbon sequestration.
There are many great online resources to help learn about biodiversity and threatened species:
Spot Our Species provides some great information and enables recording of wildlife sightings:
Healthy Country Indicator Species for Cape York Peninsula provides management guidelines to support biodiversity:
Conservation Gateway provides a suite of tools for conservation planning, practice and monitoring:
Atlas of Living Australia provides spatial information and data about species across Australia:
Species Profile and Threats Database provides national information for threatened species advices and recovery planning for EPBC listed species:
The Species Recovery Information Gateway provides information about the conservation and recovery of Queensland’s native plant and animal species:
Wetland Info provides a range of tools and resources to assist with the sustainable management of wetlands in Queensland:
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on species that have been globally evaluated:
What are threatened species, and why are they important?
The decline in Australia’s biodiversity has been the fastest of any country over the past 200 years, which is partly represented by several extensive threatened species lists. Threatened species are those species at risk of extinction. Decline in species population or extinction can affect entire ecosystems through changes in ecosystem functions such as pollination and seed dispersal, or through changes in predation or competition.
There are several formal listings of threatened species for Cape York, from global to state level, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 list and Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act (NCA) 1992 list
Threatened species on Cape York
In 2012, Cape York NRM started an analysis of available location data for threatened species on Cape York. The purpose of this analysis was to improve understanding of the distribution of data and threatened species to improve the strategic direction of conservation efforts on Cape York. By July 2015, preliminary results showed that there are 327 species listed on state (NCA), national (EPBC) and international (IUCN Red List) lists. Of these, there are about 54 could be classed as a 'priority' based on their status on these lists.
While Cape York has a great number of native species, including migratory, rare and endemic species, many of these are on the threatened species lists. For instance, there are over 100 species recorded on Cape York that are on the NCA list as near threatened, vulnerable or endangered. Cape York also has a regional list of 53 priority species, identified through the Back on Track species prioritisation framework.
Species are threatened by an array of pressures, including inappropriate fire regimes, disease, over grazing, pest animals, weeds, loss of habitat, pollution, degradation of habitat and climate change. These affect the extent of populations and number of individuals. As the risk of extinction becomes greater, species are nominated for assessment under state or federal laws, and eventually find their way on to the threatened species lists.
Conservation on Cape York
An effective way to conserve species is through conservation actions across landscapes, such as clusters of properties, protected areas and nature refuges. Actions include monitoring, awareness raising, reducing threats and establishing new populations. Bringing species back from the brink can be achieved with good planning, making the right decisions, and coordinating across the habitat of these precious species.
On Cape York, conservation efforts are done through many organisations and land holders, including:
More information about threatened species on Cape York can be found in the reference section.
Climate change and biodiversity
Changing climate has a big influence on where species live. As global temperature increases, the seasons, weather patterns and local climate on Cape York will substantially different. Some areas of Cape York will become too hot for the plants and animals that currently live here. Some plants and animals might move to cooler areas but others will disappear. To know these influences before they happen can help people plan actions to protect and support plants and animals to adapt to new areas.
Scientists from James Cook University and CSIRO worked with Regional NRM groups, including Cape York NRM, to examine the possible impacts of climate change on animals in the Wet Tropics Cluster region. Dr. April Reside and her team from James Cook University used a scientific method to model the climate impacts on animals across Cape York and the Wet Tropics Cluster.
For Cape York, 20 species distributions have been modelled using climate information at the 1-km scale (that is, climate for every square kilometre). The models use data to model the distribution as at 1990, then project the distribution at 2055 and 2085 under a high emissions scenario. The results show some key areas that will be important for conserving animals in the future.
<insert models here>
It is important to note that these models are not difinitive, there are some points to remember when looking at these models:
- They assume that climate is a main driver of species distributions and that species are mostly defined by their climate;
- They do not account for their interactions with other plants or animals (except if they determine its climate);
- They do not take into account geology or soils;
- They are not very responsive to changes in rainfall, as for Cape York this is highly uncertain;
- They do not take into account changes in the ability of species to adapt to changes in climate where they currently live;
- They are at a 1 km scale, which misses local landscape effects (springs, mounds, gullies etc.).
Where to put our efforts?
Figure: The priority areas in the Wet Tropics NRM cluster region of north-eastern Australia for (left-right): a) biodiversity; b) biodiversity and carbon are weighted equally; and c) carbon only. The far right map d) shows the distribution of the area above the 70th percentile for biodiversity only (blue), carbon only (red), and the areas above the 70th percentile for both (green).
When looking at carbon and future species projections together, where can people put their efforts in both carbon and conservation? The figure above shows that the best places to protect for both carbon and species are the east side of Cape York, particularly the Northern Peninsula Area and the Cooktown areas. For biodiversity only, the west coast is also important. It must be noted that there is currently very limited data in the central and western part of Cape York, which means these models are limited in their predictions.
Further information can be found in the Reference Library.
As people use and manage resources, there are impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. Systematic monitoring on Cape York is required to see the health of the ecosystems and status of species. Monitoring is also important for many other reasons:
- To plan for property management and conservation efforts;
- To seek funds or sell a product;
- To track and complete on-ground activities;
- To fix problems such as erosion or fence damage;
- To set and measure ecological or agricultural health;
- To see the long term changes and measure real outcomes;
- To tell and communicate a great story.
Monitoring of biodiversity
Yet the intensity of data on Cape York is limited to population centres, previously known hotspots and roads.
Systematic surveys: Reference: N. Preece 2011 – Cape York Newsletter article:
Although there are severe threats to biodiversity, there are few long-term systematic studies looking at the effects of these threats, such as on mammal populations. Proper long-term surveys are needed, using a network of multiple sites to determine the degree and extent of observed trends. Currently, the areas where systematic surveys are done for mammals are very few, spread apart and ad-hoc.
What are land managers doing?
On Cape York, several organisations are working to monitor biodiversity:
Cape York NRM can support groups with tools for field data collection. One of these tools is Fulcrum and Cape York NRM can provide a licence to land managers wishing to collect field data.
Cape York NRM also works with Indigenous groups on the west coast to monitor pigs and turtle nests using a field collection device called Cybertracker.
The Australian Tropical Herbarium can provide information and advice on its intensive CoreVeg and quarternary vegetation surveys.
TropWATER and CSIRO use new technologies to monitor aquatic animals.
CSIRO is also working with Kalan to monitor cassowaries in the McIlwraith.
Birdlife has an extensive network of bird watching and monitoring tools.
Bush Heritage and Olkola work with pastoral stations to monitor the status of the golden shouldered parrot.
Both CSIRO and Northern Gulf have recently completed fauna surveys across Cape York.